If you own a relatively-new Model S or are itching to get a Model X, you'll be glad to know that after this week both cars will be capable of enabling some of the fancy autopilot features that Tesla first showed off last autumn.
A software update, called version 7, will start rolling out soon, the electric carmaker has announced. With this update, Tesla vehicles equipped with a pricey hardware package will be able to - presumably - steer to stay within a lane, change lanes on its own, and more. The software’s autopilot features won’t offer a completely driverless experience but something close to it.
We've detailed everything you need to know, including providing you with information about which cars are slated to get the update and when.
Tesla autopilot: What is it?
When Tesla launched the Dual-motor Model S, it unveiled a $2,500 add-on hardware package coming to Tesla vehicles (the Model S and Model X) that would enable autopilot functionality. The hardware, which is not available as a retrofit, meaning you can only get it on new Teslas, will work with future software updates to deliver a range of autonomous-like features.
"Model S will be able to steer to stay within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by reading road signs and using active, traffic aware cruise control," announced Tesla. "Our goal with the introduction of this new hardware and software is not to enable driverless cars, which are still years away from becoming a reality."
Tesla said its "autopilot" system isn't fully autonomous but instead similar to systems that aircraft pilots use to increase safety when conditions are clear: "Tesla’s Autopilot is a way to relieve drivers of the most boring and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel - but the driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car," Tesla said, while noting it still opens up long-term possibilities.
Tesla explained: "Imagine having your car check your calendar in the morning, calculate travel time to your first appointment based on real time traffic data, automatically open the garage door with Homelink, carefully back out of a tight garage, and pull up to your door ready for your commute. It could also warm or cool your car to your preferences and select your favorite news stream."
Tesla autopilot: Which Tesla vehicles support autopilot?
Beginning with vehicles manufactured in late September 2014, all new Model S sedans (and the upcoming Model X crossover) will come with specific hardware that allow support for Tesla autopilot and its various features.
The Model S includes a forward radar in the lower grill, 12 long range ultrasonic sensors in the bumpers (positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction), a forward-looking camera mounted on the windshield, and a digitally-controlled electric assist braking system, while the Model X also carries a forward-looking camera, radar, and 360-degree sonar sensors.
This equipment allows the cars to detect road signs, lane markings, obstacles, and other vehicles. Keep in mind none of this functionality will be activated until Tesla rolls out its latest over-the-air software, called version 7.
Also, although the Model S is widely available, the Model X began shipping in limited volumes just weeks ago.
Tesla autopilot: When will autopilot be available?
Tesla has planned a global rollout of software update version 7, which includes some autopilot features, to owners of the Model S sedan on 15 October. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, made the announcement via a tweet and answered some of his followers’ questions about the software. The rollout will occur over a 5-day time span.
During a press event on 14 October, Tesla officially announced the release of version 7.0 of the Model S software, which enables various self-driving features first announced last year. The update, will start rolling out to Model S cars in the US, followed by Europe and Asia in the coming weeks, where it is pending regulatory approval.
Tesla autopilot: Which autopilot features will work at launch?
According to Tesla, the 7.0 release will allow a Model S to use its combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to ""automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic." Also, once you’ve arrived at a destination, your Model S will scan for a parking space and parallel park on your command.
That's right. The Model S will be able to park itself. Tesla said that you will see a “P” appear on the instrument panel whenever the car detects a parking spot in cities, and then an "autopark guide" on the touchscreen - along with the rear camera display - will appear when the car begins to control steering and vehicle speed in order to park.
To complement autopilot mode, Tesla said the instrument cluster will show real-time information the car uses to "provide a visualization of the road as detected by the car’s sensors, giving drivers the information their car is using for features like lane departure, blind spot detection, speed assist, collision warning, adaptive cruise, and autosteer."
Autosteer, which is in beta, will keep the Model S in the current lane and engages a type of cruise control that is aware of traffic. It basically assists the driver on the road, using various measures, such as steering angle, steering rate, and speed. In order for Autosteer to be enabled, a driver must be present and have their hands on the wheel.
Part of Autosteer includes an auto-lane change functionality. To engage it, use the turn signal, and then the Model S will move itself to the adjacent lane when it’s safe. You won't have to worry about colliding with anything on the side either, because the the Model S will be able to alert you when objects, such as cars, are too close to the side.
Tesla autopilot: Are more autopilot features coming?
It's assumed that Tesla will add a “valet park mode” in the future. This will let you summon the car without a driver inside.